What is a Social Entrepreneur?

Social Entrepreneurs

A social entrepreneur is any individual who enacts large-scale social change by applying the ideas of business entrepreneurship to solving society’s problems.

What generally sets an entrepreneur apart from her big business counterpart is her ability to take risks and her problem-solving skills. It turns out that these two skills applied to social causes can be leveraged to solve large-scale social problems.

Individuals have engaged in social entrepreneurship for a long time. include Florence Nightingale, who founded the first nursing school, Vinoba Bhave, who founded India’s Land Gift Movement and John Muir the founder of the Sierra Club. In each case, these individuals seized the opportunity to enact large-scale changes in society.

In the 70s and 80s, the term social entrepreneur was coined to describe individuals engaging in the widespread transformation of society. Professional organizations such as the National Center for Social Entrepreneurship were established to help foster new entrepreneurs.

In 1998 Dr. Gregory Deeds of Stanford University created a more formalized definition of a social entrepreneur when he stated the following:

  1. Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value),
  2. Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,
  3. Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,
  4. Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and
  5. Exhibiting a heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

Today, you can see examples of social entrepreneurship in many forms.

  • Microlending sites that let individuals donate small amounts of money to other individuals starting businesses in impoverished countries
  • Socially responsible shopping – websites such as Roozt.com and Green Any Site donate proceeds from sales on their site to causes.
  • Education  –  Barefoot College, promotes rural development through innovative education programs.

This website was created as a way for me to organize and share the information I discover in my quest to identify business opportunities that benefit other people.

Where can I find funding for my social enterprise?

Social Entrepreneurs have seen their funding options expand over the last couple of years. Until recently the main source of funding for those entering social enterprise has been in the form of grants. These grants typically came from philanthropic groups or individuals whose mission aligned with an entrepreneur’s vision.

Now, however, the options for the entrepreneur look more like traditional business enterprises. Funding comes from a number of sources including grants, equity, and debt. Likely the funding will be a mix of all three.


There is a number of sources for grant money given to social enterprises. Some of the grantmakers include:

  • Skoll Foundation
  • Ashoka – Ashoka is a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs that invests in individual social entrepreneurs.
  • Draper Richards Foundation – Provides funding and business mentoring to individuals and their nonprofit organizations.
  • Echoing Green – Provides startup grants and support to social entrepreneurs and their organizations
  • Global Giving – Enables individuals and companies to find and support social and economic development projects around the world.
  • Kauffman Foundation – Makes grants and supports initiatives in projects involving both entrepreneurship and education.
  • Enterprise Funding Database – A directory of funders of the social enterprise created by the Social Enterprise Alliance and The Enterprise Foundation.

Venture Capital

Another route you can take for funding your social enterprise is through Venture Capital. Like its traditional business counterparts, venture capitalists fund your enterprise and in return receive a stake in the ownership. There are a number of venture capital funds geared toward social enterprises.

  • Acumen Fund: Focus on solving problems of global poverty through loans and equity in India, Pakistan, and East and South Africa.
  • Big Issue Investment: Focus on medium-term growth capital.
  • Calvert Group: Early, direct investments.
  • Central Fund: Strong focus on sustainable jobs for low-income populations; services for distressed communities.
  • City Light Capital: Early stage, social mission-driven companies; focus on good financial returns.
  • Clean Technology Venture Capital: Invests in mid-sized alternative energy companies with promising exits.
  • First Light (an initiative of Gray Ghost Ventures): Incubator and investment partner to seed-stage, for-profit social ventures
  • Good Capital: Expansion fund; high-engagement, hands-on investment partner.
  • Gray Ghost Ventures: Early-stage enterprises focused on low-income communities in emerging markets.
  • Investors’ Circle: Investors’ Circle matches social entrepreneurs with its circle of angel investors.
  • Root Capital: Focus on grassroots businesses in rural areas of developing countries.
  • Shared Interest: Invests in fair trade businesses.
  • TBL Capital: Focus on social enterprises in consumer products, service providers, software, clean technology, green building, health and wellness, and retail.
  • Triodos Bank: Equity and debt fundraising; Social Enterprise Fund and EIS Green Funds.
  • Underdog Ventures: Focus on natural and organic food, environment and conservation, socially responsible consumer products, and socially responsible investment companies.

In addition to grants and venture capital if you are considering funding your social enterprise you can borrow against your business.

Now more than ever there are financial opportunities for entrepreneurs who are willing to take the plunge into a social enterprise.

Can I get a degree in Social Entrepreneurship?

If you are thinking about a career in social entrepreneurship you should try to find a college that will offer you an education to help you succeed. This handy guide will help you find colleges that offer programs that focus on social enterprises. These may be full degree programs or coursework as a part of other degree programs. This guide is a work in progress, I will add more schools to the list as I uncover them.

Some of the schools in this list offer degrees in social entrepreneurship. Others offer coursework as part of other degree programs. I try to make note of that where applicable.

  • American University , Washington, DC
  • Babson College , Babson, MD
  • Belmont Universty , Nashville, TN – Belmont opened the Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Service-Learning as the home base for its new undergraduate major in social entrepreneurship in 2009.
  • Colorado State University , Fort Collins, CO – The Global Social Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE) MBA Program will provide you with the business skills, the experience, the network and the attitude necessary to build and manage sustainable enterprises.
  • Chicago Booth, Chicago, IL –
  • Columbia University , New York, NY – The Social Enterprise Program (SEP) at Columbia Business School provides a framework for students to think in broader terms about their role in business and society, and prepares them with the knowledge and experience to respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing world.
  • Cornell University , Ithica, NY – At the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, we believe the private-sector has a critical role to play in helping solve the world’s most pressing environmental and social problems. We work directly with companies around the world to identify, understand, and capitalize on these competitive opportunities.
  • Duke University , Durham, NC – A research and education center based at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) promotes the entrepreneurial pursuit of social impact through the thoughtful
  • Harvard University , Boston, MA – Grounded in Harvard Business School’s mission to educate leaders who make a difference in the world, the Social Enterprise Initiative aims to generate knowledge and to inspire, educate, and support current and emerging leaders in all sectors to apply management skills to create social value.
  • Marquette University , Milwaukee, WI
  • McGill University
  • New York University , New York, NY – The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Program in Social Entrepreneurship is designed to attract, encourage and train a new generation of leaders in public service. Each year, the program will expose a highly selective group of graduate and undergraduate students from throughout New York University to the cross-disciplinary skills, experiences and networking opportunities needed to advance and support their efforts to realize sustainable and scalable pattern-breaking solutions to society’s most intractable problems.
  • Northwestern University , Evanston, IL – Levy Social Entrepreneurship Lab
    Kellogg is committed to developing socially responsible leaders who can recognize and link profit objectives with social impact opportunities. The mission of the Levy Social Entrepreneurship Lab at the Kellogg School is to inspire students to leverage best business practices in the service of positive, sustainable social impact across all sectors of leadership including the non-profit, public and for-profit sectors. The Social Entrepreneurship Lab will provide opportunities in the area of social entrepreneurship and create an environment in which students’ ideas and initiatives can take shape and flourish. The experiential nature of the Lab’s offering will complement the academic aspects of the Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) program and raise the visibility of the Kellogg School in the area of social entrepreneurship.
  • Pace University , New York, NY – The Helene & Grant Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship was created in 2005 to serve the nonprofit community and Pace University. Devoted to honing the risk-taking spirit and managerial skills of nonprofit organizations, the center was launched with a pledge of $5 million from Helene and Grant Wilson, Boston-area entrepreneurs and philanthropists whose involvement with nonprofit organizations has convinced them that more-entrepreneurial management can help these organizations increase their impact.
  • Stanford University , Stanford, CA – Stanford opened the Center for Social Innovation to “develop leaders who can solve global social and environmental challenges, and to reinforce the GSB’s leadership in educating global leaders.”
  • San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
  • , CT – This Social Entrepreneurship Program offers you two professional development options. You can register for: 1) Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship only (for $880.00) or you can register for: 2) Social Entrepreneurship Certificate Program (for $2880.00).
  • University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
  • University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of Chicago Booth School of Business – recently began offering a course in social entrepreneurship.
  • University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO
  • , Bloomington, IN – Indiana University offers a certificate in Social Entrepreneurship as part of their masters program.
  • University of Oxford , Oxford, UK – The University of Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurships’s mission is to “foster innovative social transformation through education, research, and collaboration.”
  • Universtiy of Wisconsin
  • University of Pennsylvania – Wharton ,Philadelphia, PA -This only appears to be a single course and not a full degree program.
  • Wake Forest University
  • Walden University
  • Western Carolina University –  For the first time, faculty in WCU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will be offering in fall 2012 a new freshman seminar course with a focus in social entrepreneurship through the First Year Experience program.
  • Yale University,New Haven, CT
  • American University ,Washington, DC -According to the website, this program is the first of its kind offered by an Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs member, and is among the very few graduate degrees available worldwide that directly focuses on social entrepreneurship.

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